Egyptian Turmoil is Among the Least of Democracy’s Worries

The news from Egypt is different every hour, but right now it looks as if the Egyptian people may soon enjoy the democratic elections they have so firmly demanded. (Either that, or a messy military-led coup.)

But would elections do them any good?

It’s hard to know. Freedom and democracy are devoutly to be wished for, but the possibility of an ascendant Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is alarming at best, both for Egypt and for the rest of the world.

CNN recently revealed that the Brotherhood has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to candidates in Islamic democracies—candidates who are expected, upon taking office, to use their positions to further the Brotherhood’s goals.

In other words, the organization that now helps rally for reforms in Egypt has a history of using such reforms to further its own agenda. That agenda, the worldwide institution of Sharia law, is profoundly anti-democratic, and the Brotherhood will not hesitate to use democracy against itself. Unfortunately, both the Brotherhood and some of its most important leaders are popularly considered to be moderate voices—a fact that both endangers those who listen to them, and prevents real moderate Muslims from being heard.

The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, whose belief that jihad and death were intimately intertwined still motivates Brotherhood actions. A decade after its founding, the Muslim Brotherhood had over a million followers in Egypt alone.  Today its adherents are all over the globe, including in the United States, where advocates at Virginia’s International Institute of Islamic Thought coined the term Islamophobia in an effort to gain sympathy and “beat up their critics.”

The Brotherhood’s motto remains unambiguous: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”  Widely recognized as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist entities, the Brotherhood has birthed groups like Hamas, whose tactics are neatly representative of the sort of radical Islamism the Brotherhood seeks to spread.

Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated protesters claim to be upset by the ruling party’s assault on democracy, but historically their own assault has been much worse.  Claire Berlinski writes,

I find it unfathomable, a true national security emergency, that the words “Muslim Brotherhood” mean so little to most Americans… The first thing you must grasp about the Brotherhood is its ideology: Its goal is the establishment everywhere of an Islamic state governed by Sharia law. In al Banna’s own words, it seeks “to impose its laws on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”… The Brotherhood’s essence is immoderate: It is at its core unremittingly anti-secular, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and anti-Western.

Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi is the Brotherhood’s de facto spiritual leader, and a key figure in its quest to set up global Sharia. He has spoken openly in favor of suicide bombing, wife beating, and female genital mutilation.  A fierce anti-Semite, Qaradawi has called the holocaust a “divine punishment” and praised Hitler because “he managed to put them [the Jews] in their place.”  And, lest you think such travesties don’t affect you, he has also forbidden the sale and advertising of American or Israeli goods, stating,

“America is a second Israel. It totally supports the Zionist entity. The usurper could not do this without the support of America. “Israel’s” unjustified destruction and vandalism of everything has been using American money… America has done this for decades without suffering the consequences of any punishment…”

Qaradawi has encouraged the killing of Israeli women and children, including pregnant women, on the grounds that babies might grow up to join the Israeli army. He teaches that Muslims have a duty to support Hezbollah.  And, though he has written in favor of democracy in the Muslim world, he admits that a Muslim democracy would be very different from those found in the West because “…in Islam there are some fixed principles that cannot be changed.”

The fact that the Brotherhood has joined the demands for democratic elections in Egypt ought to be overshadowed by the fact that the group subscribes to a philosophy that seeks to “destroy the Western civilization from within.” Yet, few realize that radical Islamism poses a danger even more insidious than outright violence.  Robert Spencer writes,

There is a new attempt to confuse the American people about the nature of the threat we face. It’s a large-scale mainstream media effort to deny both that there is any attempt to bring Sharia to the United States, and that Sharia is anything to be concerned about in the first place. Unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence of attempts to establish the primacy of Islamic law over American law, and much to indicate that Sharia is anything but benign.

Egyptian tyranny is tragic, and should be stopped. But tyranny, it seems,  is among the least of democracy’s worries.

Image credit

An Open Letter To Mohamed Abdel Moniem El-Sawy

An open letter to Mohamed Abdel Moniem El-Sawy:

I must admit, I don’t understand everything about the different segments of your Islamic faith—anymore than I understand everything about all the different denominations of Christianity. But they say actions speak louder than words, and I do understand that you and thousands of other Muslims in Egypt were willing to put aside differences in creed to unite for the sake of peace in your nation.

Thank you for being willing to protect the Coptic Christians in Egypt who were afraid for their lives this Christmas. You put yourselves in very real danger when you offered yourselves as “human shields.” Fortunately, the deadly New Years’ Eve attack was not repeated, and no one was hurt.  Thank you, all the same, for being willing to sacrifice yourselves for my Christian brothers and sisters.

I admire the theme emerging from your actions: “We either live together, or we die together” for indeed, these were no mere words. You were willing to literally put your life on the line in support of your fellow Egyptians, despite the religious differences which can so easily separate neighbors.

Just as we Americans learned from Abraham Lincoln that a house divided against itself cannot stand, the world can learn much the same from your actions last Thursday. We do not have to be threatened by all of our differences, and it’s good to be reminded that, for the sake of a nation, people will act on the courage of their convictions. There is much here to be admired.

Thank you.

Editors note: We offer our sincere condolences for the families of those who were shot on an Egyptian train today.

Image credit

Malaysia, Myanmar, and Hillary Clinton

EO has been quiet lately, but our editors surely haven’t.  Here’s one of my latest, from the New Ledger:

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in Australia this week, speaking on social justice, democracy, and his own legal woes.  He has also addressed the recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition politician, declaring that her release will mean nothing until she is permitted to take her place as the elected leader of Myanmar.  Anwar has used Suu Kyi’s release to attract attention to his own political problems, arguing that Australia ought to speak out in the face of atrocities in both Myanmar and Malaysia:

“But I think they’re ill-advised if they proceed in this way…. I’m not suggesting that [the Australian government] should interfere, but they should express their views, they should promote civil society, as a vibrant democracy they’ve a duty…. But I think the issue of democracy, human rights, rule of law, they’re not something that you can just ignore. But I’m of course appreciative of the fact that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd took time, and we had very, very useful discussions, some issues affecting both countries, and of course my personal predicament. But I always make it a point that they should extend the issue, the issue of freedom, human rights. It goes beyond Anwar’s personal case.”

The problem here is that “Anwar’s personal case” is very different from Suu Kyi’s, and Malaysia’s political landscape has little in common with Myanmar’s.

Read the rest here.

And from the Daily Caller:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton neatly sidestepped a messy diplomatic tangle Tuesday when she canceled her plans to meet with Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.  Only time will tell whether her last-minute schedule change adequately conveyed her apparent reluctance to add status to a controversial figure, but one thing is certain — Anwar’s anti-Semitic rhetoric and ties to dangerous terrorist finance groups mean he deserves none of the status a visit would have afforded him.

Though Anwar has spent the past decade gathering respect in Washington, his ties to terrorist finance groups like the Muslim Brotherhood clearly falsify his claims to represent the sort of moderate Islam the United States has so eagerly courted.  Al Gore’s defenses notwithstanding, Anwar is exactly the sort of Islamist radical in moderate’s clothing the U.S. must denounce.

Far from being the Malaysian “Voice of Democracy” his website touts, Anwar is in fact the co-founder of, and a trustee at, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), an American front organization for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The IIIT has a long history of proven and alleged terrorist finance ties.  Just two years ago, for example, Temple University refused funding from the IIIT, citing serious concerns about the organization’s terror-financing connections.

In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood named the IIIT in a list of 29 likeminded “organizations of our friends” that aimed to destroy America and turn it into a Muslim nation.

In 2003, U.S. prosecutors submitted evidence that the IIIT had a hand in funding Sami al-Arian, the convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad fundraiser.  The same document also stated that “IIIT president Taha Jaber al-Alwani once signed a copy of a fatwa declaring that jihad is the only way to liberate Palestine.”

And the United States isn’t the only nation that has noted the Virginia-based IIIT’s problematic ties; in 2007, Malaysian Muslim feminist Zainah Anwar alleged that the organization had indirectly endorsed Islamic polygamy by removing from new translations of the Quran some widely accepted notes on the supremacy of monogamous marriages.

Anwar has done little to disguise his association with the IIIT, even tweeting recently that he was visiting the organization during a trip to the United States.  Despite these and other problematic ties, Anwar continues to be a well-loved figure in Washington circles — a fact that Clinton did not hesitate to point out during her tour of Malaysia.

This is surprising, given President Obama’s praise for Anwar’s political enemies at the ASEAN summit in New York last week.  Obama’s enthusiastic endorsement of Prime Minister Najib’s call for a Global Movement of Moderates should leave no room for Anwar’s brand of Islamist extremism, but that hasn’t kept U.S. officials from voicing their support of Anwar’s cause.

Read the rest here.

Photo credit Image and Commonwealth Office

Social Justice and the Cross: A False Dichotomy

Something’s rotten in the state of Christendom.  In the third century, Cyprian was bishop of Carthage.  The church had recently survived the Decian persecutions and Cyprian controversially urged his congregants to welcome back into the body of Christ those who had denied their faith under duress.  Then plague struck North Africa.  As the collective personas non grata, Christians found themselves blamed for the devastation.  In 257, Emperor Valerian opened new persecutions against Christians, including the execution of Pope Sixtus, the exile of Cyprian, and the ordered execution of all Christian leaders.  In the midst of this chaos and persecution, Cyprian did the unthinkable: he ordered all Christians of Carthage to do what no one else in the city was willing to do.  He ordered them to take on the suicide mission of caring for plague victims.  These were people who actively supported the murder of Christians, and the believers faced nearly certain death by tending to the needs of the victims dying of plague.  And yet under Cyprian’s leadership, they did so willingly.

The face of Christian charity in America is somewhat different.  Today, we find ourselves embroiled in modern entanglements of post-Enlightenment theology and the ever-present problem of greed disguised as self-interest.  When books like Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger find serious challenges from books like Successful Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulation, and a prominent Mormon with several daily talk shows on TV and radio instructs Christians in the theological legitimacy of social justice, Christians have strayed from the radical charity of the early church.  While most thinking Christians thankfully dismiss both anti-biblical extremes, we still find ourselves drawn into a debate that bogs down radical actions of Christian charity.  Humanitarian and theologian Christian Buckley argues

Just as the masses left Christ two thousand years ago when His call became difficult, His ways became unpopular, and His perspective became detested, we are being challenged to walk away from Christ’s humanitarianism.

We draw Christian charity battlelines and accuse each other from across no man’s land.  We obsess over one question: Should we serve people in order to share the Gospel with them, or is service sharing the Gospel with people in need?

In Humanitarian Jesus: Social Justice and the Cross, authors Christian Buckley and Ryan Dobson present the answer to this modern quandary by examining the Body of Christ, both His physical incarnation and the actions of His followers.  In the first half of the book, Buckley lays out the main points of both arguments, service for evangelism and evangelism as service.  He marks the major turning points in each movement and presents biblical support for both and exposes the weaknesses of each approach.  But the argument culminates in the obvious conclusion: you can’t have one without the other.  Evangelism and charity must be united for either to be authentic.

Dobson and Buckley interviewed dozens of Christians who serve as exemplars of how to act on our Savior’s instructions.  From missionaries to social workers, surfers to abolitionists, the interviewees make a compelling case for the futility of the false dichotomy of service versus evangelism.  Jerry Wiles, president of Living Water International, says it best:

It is more effective, and, to paraphrase an African head of state, “You can’t minister to dead people.  You can’t do health care to dead people.  You can’t educate dead people.  You’ve got to have them alive first.”  The first thing is to bring physical life.  It is true that if you just bring the water without the message, you just extend their physical life.  It’s not a matter of either-or with us.  It’s both – and in every case.  It’s not a choice… I don’t think that’s ever the option – the gospel or good works.  I don’t think we have to make that choice because God’s going to provide a way to bring the gospel when you engage people and meet their physical needs.

It’s hard to argue with a man who’s dedicated his life to ensuring access to safe drinking water for people around the world.  It’s even harder to do so from a country that uses hundreds of millions of gallons of safe drinking water to fill our swimming pools.  Interview after interview in the book comes to the same conclusion: There should be no division between evangelism and service.

During His ministry, Christ didn’t divide evangelism and service.  Neither should we.  Buckley and Dobson didn’t need to write a book to make this argument.  This isn’t an argument that needs winning; it’s an argument that needs living.  Being right isn’t enough.  We must, as Saint Paul exonerated the church at Ephesus, “walk in a manner worthy of our calling.”  As my priest, Father Matthew Weber says,

We cannot be whole Christians without both these things.  We cannot be whole human beings without both these things.

Followers of Christ brave enough to dive into the trenches of radical Christian service understand that truth.  Those of us who sit comfortably in the industrialized world continue to bicker.  We need to sacrifice our greed on the altar of grace, take up our cross and follow Him, proclaiming His name all the way.  We’ll then find then that there is no division between evangelism and service.  We’ll find there is only Christ.

What Decided Perry v. Schwarzenegger

Everyone’s talking about the wrong thing.  The Prop 8 trial Perry v. Schwarzenegger recently concluded in a flurry of punditry that had little if anything to do with the case.  While most media personalities spent their time aimlessly speculating or just provoking controversy, anyone who wants to understand why and how Prop 8 was overturned should read Judge Vaughan Walker’s decision.  Walker writes with such clarity and elegance that anyone seeking the details and conclusions of the trial can easily gain a working understanding of the issues involved.  And if our country is going to address this complex legal issue, more people need to do so.

Perry v. Schwarzenegger rests on three plaintiff claims, all of which hinge on the Fourteenth Amendment.  The prosecution charged that by amending the state constitution to restrict marriage to opposite sex couples, Proposition 8 violated the due process clause, the equal protection clause, and qualified homosexuals for heightened scrutiny, elevating their status as a persecuted minority and requiring the justice system to intervene.  The defense had to address these charges and, as Judge Walker ruled (and I can verify, having been present for part of the trial), did a pathetic job.  To be fair, proving that Prop 8 wasn’t religiously motivated is probably impossible.

The three charges rest on each other.  First, the prosecution had to prove that homosexuals had been singled out for persecution on non-secular grounds.  Thanks to the literature, websites, and mass emails disseminated by groups such as Protect Marriage, NARTH, and 1man1woman, this was easy to prove and impossible for the defense to refute.  Most information these groups spread during the 2008 campaign for Proposition 8 linked gays (discreetly at best, overtly at worst) with pedophilia.  Never mind that pedophilia, by definition, is adults preying upon children who have yet to develop a sexual identity, and therefore the sexual orientation of the adult is irrelevant to the situation.  Ironically for the proponents of Prop 8 who were willing to say whatever it took to convince a slim majority of Californians to vote for the proposition, given the hyperbolic nature of the opposition’s arguments, Walker had no other option than to grant that homosexuals qualify for heightened scrutiny as a group singled out for religious or moral, but not secular reasons, for government-sponsored discrimination.

From heightened scrutiny, the other charges naturally follow.  The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the U.S. states says

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Because the facts of the case allowed the court to consider homosexuals under heightened scrutiny, Walker found that Prop 8 denied same sex couples equal protection under the law.  Heterosexuals may marry, but Prop 8 denied homosexual couples the right to choose and marry a spouse.  From there, the due process violation logically follows.  As Walker writes

Due process protects individuals against arbitrary governmental intrusion into life, liberty, and property… When legislation burdens the exercise of a right deemed to be fundamental, the government must show that the intrusion withstands strict scrutiny. (109-110)

The defense asserted four main points: Prop 8 maintains California’s current definition of marriage as opposite sex only, it affirms the will of the voters to exclude same sex couples from marriage, it promotes stability in relationships because opposite sex relationships usually produce naturally-conceived children, and it promotes “statistically-optimal” child-rearing households.  As Judge Walker states on p. 10 of the decision

The state does not have an interest in enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without a secular purpose.

Therefore, the defense had to prove that the state had a secular purpose in enforcing Prop 8.  They primarily relied upon the procreative argument, that the state has a vested interest in promoting relationships that naturally produce children.  However that claim crumbled quickly, especially when one of only two witnesses the defense produced (neither of whom was admitted as an expert witness) admitted that though it may be ideal for a child to be reared by a male and female parent, recent research supports the theory that two loving parents, regardless of gender, provide a healthy environment for a child.  From start to finish, the defense paled in comparison to the prosecution in terms of factual information, expert testimony, and consistent argument.

The most interesting part of Walker’s decision for the larger debate over same sex marriage is his argument about marriage’s identity.  Until the early 20th century, most states in the U.S. operated under a legal marital practice known as coverture, which meant that the state viewed a married couple as legally one person, and by default, the husband.  The woman’s legal rights such as property ownership, the ability to enter legal contracts, even the right to retain wages she earned outside the home, were all ceded to the man.  With the abolition of coverture, as well as the introduction of no-fault divorce, Walker argues, marriage became a union of co-equals whose gender was legally irrelevant.  Given that the defense failed to prove the state’s exclusive interest in naturally procreative relationships, Walker concluded that the state need not differentiate between opposite sex and same sex couples when it comes to marriage.  Rather, Walker argues, the state’s interest is in legally fostering the establishment of stable households, regardless of how children are produced or whether children are included in those households at all.  Unless the state requires couples to be able to procreate, there is no reason why it should deny same sex unions when gender roles in opposite sex marriages are indistinct.  Because marriage is a fundamental right (Walker cites cases from Griswold v. Connecticut to Loving v. Virginia to Turner v. Safely), and fundamental rights cannot be subject to a vote, Prop 8’s voter support is not cause enough to maintain it.

This is only just the highlight reel of what is an intensely fascinating case.  I highly suggest that you download the pdf and read it for yourself if you’re interested.  I don’t have space here to cover even half the legal issues it raises, much less the cultural impact of those decisions.  And, as fascinating as this case is, its scope is far too narrow to capture the real constitutional crisis behind same sex marriage.  Article IV of the Constitution contains two clauses, known as the full faith & credit clause and the privileges & immunities clause, both of which make it difficult to know where the states’ constitutional right to define legal and social contracts such as marriage ends and the federal government’s duty to ensure that citizens in each state are afforded the same civil rights and liberties as fellow citizens in other states begins.  That will take another court case, and another trip through the federal system to see what the nine members of the Supreme Court think.

Regardless, this controversy isn’t over.  It really won’t matter what any state or federal judge does until the Supreme Court rules on Article IV.  So settle in for the long haul!  It will be a fascinating, bumpy, constitutional ride.’

The Hobgoblin of Little Ideologies

Conservatives just ain’t what they used to be.  From the Big Brother program of unwarranted domestic wiretapping to military spending in Iraq that was so great it wasn’t even reported on the annual budget, the Republican party has been wandering far from its small government roots.  Of course, a party betraying its ideological ideals is as old as the Republic herself, and shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been following US politics for more than about five minutes.  But recent legislation from Arizona is about to take that dichotomy to a new level.

Last week, Arizona enacted SB 1070, a law designed to aggressively enforce federal legislation prohibiting undocumented workers.  Section E of the bill states, that a cop “without a warrant, may arrest a person if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.”  Subsequent portions make it clear this is not granting permission, but instituting a mandate.

At first glance, this may appear to be a simple case of a state stepping in where the federal government has failed.  After all, the feds have thousands of miles of border to patrol, but Arizona need only concern itself with its own.  And in the wake of horrific violence boiling over the border from Mexico’s drug war, it seems that Arizona’s new immigration law is a reasonable approach to a dire situation.

There are several problems with that perspective, however.  First and foremost, as the circumstances of the law’s drafting dictate, is the practical effect of the law.  This law does nothing to stem the tide of illegal immigrants pouring over the Arizona border each year.  Requiring that law enforcement check documentation on anyone “the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States” necessitates racial profiling, no matter what other clauses or revisions of the law proclaim.  In Arizona, the threat of illegal immigration comes from Mexico, and the only practical application of the mandate is a specific targeting of those who appear to be of Mexican heritage, whether in language or appearance.

Never mind that more than a century of judicial precedent forbids such a targeted audience for scrutiny.  Never mind that it trespasses upon the civil liberties of citizens and non-citizens alike.  The only practical, feasible application of the mandate is that law enforcement is required to demand documentation from those who appear to be from Mexico.  No amount of boilerplate prohibitions on racial profiling or the follow-up patch enacted on Friday will change that.  According to the bill’s sponsor, Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, the follow-up law’s changes were clarifications “just to take away the silly arguments and the games, the dishonesty that’s been played.”  But they’re not silly arguments, and they should trouble conservatives who value minimalist government intervention in the lives of individual citizens most of all.

Constitutionally, Arizona’s law doesn’t have a judicial leg to stand on.  From Chae Chan Ping v. US (1889) to Lozano v. Hazleton (2007), US courts under conservative and liberal justices alike have consistently ruled that while a state has the right to secure its borders in pursuit of its responsibility to protect the general welfare of its citizens, only the national government can legislate or prosecute instances of immigration.  Though Arizona’s law is redundant by nature (federal law has already defined what constitutes illegal immigration and SB 1070 doesn’t add anything new to that definition), it is clearly inconsistent with the parameters of state power set by the Framers of the Constitution.  A state may not legislate on issues of immigration, no matter what that legislation entails (likewise, a state may not ignore federal immigration legislation, as some ‘sanctuary cities’ pretend they can without consequence).  Though a state’s right to defend itself is consistent with conservative ideology, to do so at the expense of the liberty of citizens and a massive expansion of government power of surveillance certainly is not.

But this law is not about protecting Arizona.  It’s a desperate attempt, groping in the dark against terrors we know we can’t fight alone.  It’s understandable.  When an American citizen is gunned down on his own property by criminals who are in the country illegally, and the federal government is distant and disinterested, it’s hard to blame the state for retaliating on its own terms.  But as robust as this law seems in the face of illegal immigration, it only creates more problems.

Law enforcement’s already daunting job in stemming the tide of violence from Mexico’s drug war as its spills over the border will be made even more difficult by this law.  Faced with this new mandate to investigate immigration status from traffic stops to “local civil ordinances” (anything from complaints about loud noise to an unkempt front lawn), officers will need to choose between focusing on peacekeeping and fulfilling the new law. 

Though proponents argue against its negative effects on fighting crime, the law cripples law enforcement at its most basic level.  Officers will lose their ability to distinguish between perpetrator and victim.  Instead of stopping the human trafficker alone, this law mandates that his victims be given equal treatment.  Considering the US’s weak anti-trafficking laws (you get more jail time for pirating music than forcing a child into prostitution in this country), if the traffickers are clever, which they are, they can exploit that weakness and suffer lighter legal consequences than their victims.

This law will also drastically set back the most effective method of policing in marginalized communities, community policing.  Cops depend on the immigrant community in hot spots to provide evidence to help them catch violent criminals.  With Phoenix’s new status as the kidnapping capital of the country (and approaching the second in the world), community policing has never been more important to Arizonans.  This law makes it impossible for police to maintain the trust they’ve built with non-violent undocumented workers who serve as valuable sources of information.

The law also creates a humanitarian crisis.  Its provisions (which were not amended by Friday’s revisions) are written so broadly that they mandate arrest for anyone found with undocumented workers who are suspected of aiding them.  In practical application, clergy, medical workers, or even good samaritans giving them a ride are subject to criminal investigation, detention, and prosecution. 

This analysis only scratches the surface of the problems with Arizona’s new immigration law.  It would take far more space than is available here to plumb the depths of its inadequacy to prevent violent criminals from fighting the Mexican drug war in the US, or the law’s contribution to the growing racial cleavage in the border states between immigrants from Latin America and those of us whose ancestors immigrated only a couple hundred years earlier. 

In addition to these weaknesses, the law is ineffective in its goal of solving the problem of illegal immigration.  It is but the first step in a legislative attempt spearheaded by the misguided State Senator Pearce to make Arizona so inhospitable to people of Mexican descent that they won’t come to his state.  Next on his agenda is a bill that would require public school teachers to report children of illegal immigrants to the state in order for the state to calculate the cost of their education, then take action to bar them from public education services.  The fact that such attempts in two other states were struck down in recent years doesn’t seem to matter.  He is already in the process of enacting legislation to remove bilingual teachers from ESL classes in schools in Arizona.

What Pearce and his fellow Arizonans who favor such draconian legislation fail to realize is that the only way to ‘solve’ the problem of illegal immigration is to enact policies that help law enforcement crack down on violent criminals in the country illegally, encourage undocumented workers to follow proper channels to achieve legal residency, and put their children on the path to citizenship.  Other states are doing it.  Texas Governor Rick Perry, no friend to namby-pamby liberal amnesty plans, has pursued policies that will allow just those transitions, and Texas has a longer, more porous border than Arizona and has dealt with an incredibly complicated relationship with Mexico since long before Arizona was recognized as a territory.

In short, it takes more than a kneejerk reaction to fix this legitimate problem.  As conservatives often say in response to gun control policy, ‘if you outlaw guns only outlaws will have them.’  Likewise, Arizona’s new law will ensure that the only people in the state illegally are those who do not fear the police, that Arizona’s police will lose even more power to stop them, and that Arizona’s Hispanic population, whether citizens, residents, or undocumented immigrants, will lose another piece of their liberty based on nothing other than their ethnic identity.

Give me your tired, your poor, indeed. ‘

The Murder of the Homeless & Social Merit

Do we perform acts of kindness towards others because they deserve it or because they need it?

In case you haven’t heard, a homeless man was recently murdered in New York City after trying to help a woman in the middle of being assaulted. Brian Levin reports:

In New York surveillance video captured a homeless good Samaritan come to the aid of a woman being attacked by a knife wielding assailant, only to be stabbed himself. While not a hate crime, the bleeding wounded man was casually ignored by passersby who failed to do anything to assist him as he lay dying in the street.

Levin comments that though this instance isn’t a hate crime because the perpetrator was initially after the woman, Levin states that many hate crime scholars are regarding the increasing number of homicidal deaths of this demographic as such, because the homeless are “perceived as a threat.”

Of course, we should be angry at those who choose to actively brutalize and murder, but what of those who do nothing to stop or help when they’re able? What of the passersby?

Some are saying that the passivity of passersby is the result of a kind of psychological paralysis. “Bystander apathy,” as it’s called, is a result of being overly-exposed to violence and being in a very public setting in which people feel less guilty for doing nothing.

While some, like Manasan, offer other examples for why few get involved in public displays of violence, we should consider whether our judgments of those being harmed play into our decision to pass-by, watch… or help.

Isn’t it possible that in a crisis situation we are more likely to help those we consider more valuable within society than those who we view as a burden?

Jack Levin (no relation to Brian Levin), a professor of sociology and criminology, comments that being homeless and/or elderly has an effect upon those who are witnesses:

“We devalue people with disabilities, people who are homeless, people who are marginal types, and elders,” he said. Levin suggested that crime victims who need help while in a public space try appealing directly to an individual.”If you can somehow single out a person so he does feel personal responsibility, then he will help,” he said.

In discussing what happened in New York the other day, a professor of mine pointed out that even those who speak out for the marginalized often fail to properly help the marginalized.

We feel better about ourselves if we “say” something in support of the needy. I would be lying if I said it doesn’t make me feel better to write this article. But if I regularly justify not helping others when I can, for the sake of myself, and because of implicitly held beliefs about who is valuable and who is not, I am one of those onlookers who passed by the homeless-man while he was bleeding to death.

Consequently, if the murder of this homeless man is an example of our social gradation of human value, shouldn’t we consider the possibility that we are failing to live up to our professed beliefs?

Is it logically consistent to serve others based on merit or need?

Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões. (Some Rights Reserved.)

A Primer on Modern Slavery – Lunch w/TED

They are swayed by the promise of jobs in another city or even another country. Perhaps they are promised work in hotels, constructions jobs, or as nannies who “love to travel.”  They go off with the person who recruits them. When they try to leave, they are told they can’t go; they have a travel debt they must pay. They are warned that if they try to leave, their families back home will be harmed. They are forced against their will to work as prostitutes or perform backbreaking acts of physical labor. They are modern slaves. Continue reading A Primer on Modern Slavery – Lunch w/TED

The Fierce Urgency of Now

It’s Friday, and I’m sitting in a crowded megachurch in Los Gatos, California on a warm spring evening.  A singer scratches the air with his rough voice and acoustic guitar with the sincerity only a musician with a small Facebook fan page can muster.  It’s a far cry from the scores of concerts taking place around my hometown of Austin, Texas tonight.  There, South by Southwest is in full swing; there, artists like my brother jam in clubs and on obscure stages seeking recording contracts, faithful fans, or just the transcendent experience of a truly great jam.  Here, there are no agents and no fans.  Something far stronger than a great show binds the artists and audience together: charity.

Last August, a May graduate from the school where I teach left home for church.  She was broadsided by a reckless driver.  The doctors call her condition TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury, but that doesn’t come close to expressing the destructive force that transformed Jessica from a bubbly, college-bound girl to a girl who, seven months on, can nod her head on a good day and has yet to speak a word.  To compound tragedy, the family’s health insurance has balked at paying for her treatment every step of the way.  Despite the fact that it was only because her mother stayed with her every hour that a nurse was notified in time to save Jessica during several midnight crises, it took several petitions and the investigative department of a local tv station to keep the insurance company from forcing Jessica into a hospital wing that was inadequately staffed and didn’t allow family to stay overnight.  The Huse family’s saga has been one long apologetic for the need to ensure that for-profit insurers cannot abandon or financially destroy faithful customers for the sake of the bottom line.

Tonight’s concert is an apologetic, too, and it communicates something of a mixed message.  Hundreds, most of whom had never met Jessica or her family, purchased tickets at $20 per person and participated in the raffle and silent auction to raise funds for the family’s medical bills.  This evening is a testimony to the generosity of strangers, family, and friends, an outpouring of the Church caring for a sister in need.  But tonight’s proceeds won’t put a dent in the cost of the long-term care Jessica requires.  The family needs night after night after night like this one.  Even a large congregation unburdened by this recession couldn’t sustain that kind of giving.  Most churches struggle to collect enough tithes to keep the lights on.  And Jessica is merely one sister in need.  Charity, no matter how heartfelt, is not enough.  We must do more to make health care available to everyone.

Whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is part of the solution to this problem is a legitimate matter of great debate.  A few things are certain: it will bring access to care to thirty million of our fellow citizens, it will take important steps to curb insurers’ refusal to cover patients with preexisting conditions, and it will stop them from dropping patients who become ill or injured.  It is incomplete, insufficient, and contains provisions that raise serious moral questions.  It is also the closest we’ve been to making this system more just in the better part of a century.

Whatever the rest of this legislative session brings, we have a clear mandate from He who is Charity.  We must uphold the sanctity of life, from the unborn to the aged, from the man with cancer who loses his job, his insurance, then his life, to the girl hit by a car on her way to worship Him.  If not this bill, then another, and that right soon.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”  As with so many other things, Dr. King was right.  It was one of Christ’s most famous parables that radically redefined our responsibility for each other when He told of a Samaritan who rescued his enemy on the road and paid for his medical care at great personal cost.  Health care costs have spiraled beyond our ability to mimic the Samaritan in many cases, but He has not excused us from helping our neighbor.  Like the people who gave with open hands to a girl they’d never met, we can find a way to extend our great fortune of health care to those who do not share that fortune.  We may not be able to pay out of pocket, but we have been granted the power of political participation and creative private enterprise.  If we do not use them, we, like the priest and the Levite, pass by the wounded man on the road.  Christ didn’t speak highly of those men. ‘

Everyday Justice and Lent

“Welcome, dear feast of Lent!” George Herbert, English country priest and poet wrote in Lent (1633). Last week, the western church entered the season of solemn preparation to remember Christ’s great sacrifice and victory over sin and death, and in a short while our eastern brothers and sisters will join us. Lent is usually observed through practices of self-denial and increased spiritual discipline, as Amy Cannon so aptly introduced in a recent article on this site. To prepare our hearts for the joyous celebration of the empty tomb, we must first remind ourselves of the great tragedy of the cross. So, for forty days, we deny ourselves things that are good in remembrance of the things Christ secured for us that are far better, and we take upon ourselves new or intensified practices to make ourselves more like Him. Herbert was right. In fasting, we do indeed find a great feast.

In our Lenten remembrance, we strive to take on attributes of Christ. His work on the cross saved us from the chained bondage of sin and death. We are never more like Him than when we bring freedom to others, and Scripture records that the heart of God is moved most deeply by the plight of the poor and oppressed. And, since Lent isn’t supposed to be forty days of virtue in a church year full of apathy, we can spend this time cultivating aspects of Christ’s character that will carry us through the rest of our lives as we grow in knowledge and love of Him.

At a loss for where to begin? Julie Clawson offers some excellent suggestions in her book Everyday Justice: the Global Impact of our Daily Choices. As I’ve written here before, our most mundane choices from day to day dramatically affect people around the world. In some cases, we unknowingly bind them to modern slavery for our convenience and savings. It may feel great to purchase food, clothing, or luxuries at a deep discount, but the items didn’t suddenly become less expensive to produce. There’s a hidden cost to marked down prices, and we don’t often see those forced to pay. Like it or not, and aware of it or not, we are complicit in their oppression. In Everyday Justice, Clawson traces that complicity through commonly purchased items (coffee, chocolate, cars, food, and clothes) and what happens to what we consume through waste and international debt.

Clawson’s documentation is thorough. This is a book for skeptics and believers alike. In her introduction, Clawson draws a connection between Coca-Cola consumption and genocide in the Darfur region that’s shocking (Sudan is the world’s leading producer of gum arabic, an ingredient so vital to the creation of America’s favorite bubbly beverages that the National Soda Association and other gum arabic groups successfully lobbied for an exception to the US’s sanctions against Sudan, rendering those sanctions meaningless in 1997). When something as seemingly benign as an icy Coke on a hot afternoon puts the drinker in league with a lobby that sought to prevent the US from interfering in genocide, it can be overwhelming to think of hunting down each of these daily routines that have such devastating consequences to our fellow men.

But that’s why the book is called Everyday Justice. Clawson offers the reader a guide to introduce us to living more justly. It exposes the consequences of some of our daily activities and offers simple steps that anyone can take to seek justice instead. As Clawson says, it is an introduction to “tweak – not overhaul” our habits. Rather than overwhelm the reader with the impossible task of righting every wrong and making sure nothing she does has any harmful effect whatsoever on anyone anywhere (a highly unrealistic goal, especially given the nature of our deeply entrenched consumerism), Clawson’s book is an example of how to seek justice in a manageable, practical, meaningful way every day.

Above all, it is a reminder that as Christians, we are called to act in love in all things. If our purchasing choices bring real harm to people, it follows that they can also, if altered, treat people in love and respect. In this Lenten season, as we follow Christ to the Cross, we need not just deny ourselves treats like chocolate or a nice glass of wine for our own sake. We can use that denial to serve our brothers and sisters around the world. In doing so, Lent does its greatest work on us; it reminds us who we are, who God is, and helps us reorder our priorities in light of His. ‘